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Supported by Trinity House

Mariners’ maps and mishaps

Tell stories from the high seas and learn to plot voyages on nautical charts.

You will need

  • Pens or pencils
  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • Scrap paper
  • Big sheets of paper
  • Nautical charts
  • Parallel plotters
  • Dividers


Before you begin

  • You could use a whiteboard and projector instead of a big sheet of paper.
  • Ask everyone to research a story of a famous ocean voyage ‘gone wrong’ – where explorers ended up somewhere unexpected or failed to complete their journey. These don’t have to be stories of British ships or grand missions. The more variety the better.
  • Source nautical charts that cover some of the geographical locations from the stories. Find enough charts so that small groups can share one. Open Sea Map is a free online nautical chart.
  • Familiarise yourself with marine chart plotting. Take a look at How to plot a navigation course on a nautical chart without GPS for a step-by-step guide.
  • You may decide you need the help of an expert guest to deliver this session.


Telling tales

  1. Everyone should share the stories they have researched. If people have looked into the same stories, they could pair up or split into small groups.
  2. Everyone should use the charts to help people see where the voyages took place and went wrong.
  3. Everyone should take turns telling stories and asking questions.

Chart a historic voyage

  1. The person leading the activity should explain how to plot a marine voyage on a chart.
  2. Everyone should split into small groups and sit down with scrap paper and pencils, a nautical chart, parallel plotters and dividers.
  3. Using the nautical charts, each group should familiarise themselves with the common symbols and chart datum. This may vary slightly from map to map.
  4. Each small group should plot at least part of the historic journeys they researched. Routes can be tracked in as little or as much detail as each group is interested in mapping.
  5. Each small group should talk about some of the challenges involved in plotting historic journeys. How much have the oceans have changed since these voyages were made? How many land masses were unidentified? Details recorded on charts change all the time. This exercise will show everyone the importance of up-to-date maps.
  6. Everyone should gather together in a big group once more. Talk about how advancements in navigation technology can help us avoid some of the mishaps made before. Are mariners still making big navigation mistakes?


This activity was about trying new things. Learning some of the finer details of chart plotting can be tricky. Everyone should take time to reflect on the ways they learn best. This way, when it comes to approaching the next new challenge, they can say what works for them.

This activity was also about learning to communicate. Storytelling can be a fun way to learn from the mistakes of those who came before us, and can be an interesting format for introducing everyone to a new topic. Everyone should think about whether the storytelling format worked for them. Did the environment encourage sensitive communication and active listening? Did anyone notice any components of good storytelling?


All activities must be safely managed. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.